SAN JOSE -- In an unusual turn of events that could affect the verdict in a San Jose rape case, a woman has been arrested in the middle of the trial on suspicion of flying to Detroit and offering the victim $30,000 not to testify.
Although the woman who offered the alleged bribe won't be charged until after Geoffrey Chambers' rape trial, Santa Clara County Superior Judge Deborah A. Ryan decided that jurors had to be given some bare-bones information about the alleged financial inducement. Prosecutor Bryan Slater was able to argue that the victim's refusal to accept the money was germane to the highly contentious issue of her credibility in the he-said/she-said case, which is expected to reach closing arguments on Tuesday.
Chambers, now 53, is accused of raping his then-19-year-old female relative, who reportedly texted a cousin immediately after what would have been the April 2011 assault. However, the texts could not be recovered by the cellphone company, and the cousin was not called to testify. The defense has argued that the young woman made up the story because she was embarrassed about the encounter, and that her actions during the encounter did not convey a lack of interest.
Information about the alleged attempted bribe to dissuade the young woman from testifying was carefully reported in three parts to the jury:
It won't be clear until after the trial ends how the information affected jurors. But there's no doubt it has boosted the trial's complexity.
"I've been practicing for 30 years and this is one of the more complicated cases I've ever heard of," said Palo Alto defense attorney Michael W. Armstrong, who has represented many clients in sex cases, including Sara Cole, the Los Gatos mom acquitted two years ago of having sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old boy. "I'm sure that neither the judge nor the prosecutor or defense attorney is happy to be presented with these facts.''
Crafting the statement to the jury was a difficult balancing act.
The idea was not to taint the defendant by association, since he may not have even known of the offer. The offer also doesn't necessarily mean the person who made it believes Chambers is guilty; she may have believed in his innocence, but was afraid that he would be wrongfully convicted and sentenced up to 56 years in prison.
However, that the alleged victim refused the $30,000 could help the prosecution persuade jurors that her account of the alleged crime is credible. In the end, jurors will have to examine the totality of the evidence to come to a reasoned decision.
Last week, the woman who attempted the alleged bribe was called to the stand in Chambers' trial, but invoked her Fifth Amendment right and refused to answer questions by the prosecutor on the grounds that it might incriminate her. The woman is likely to be charged with one felony count of attempting to dissuade a witness, which could be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor -- a case prosecutors call a "wobbler." As a felony, it is a strike crime punishable by up to four years in prison.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.